As I lounge on the couch this morning watching Top Chef repeats, my trip to Japan seems an exciting yet distant prospect. Having finished most of my preparations, I am now free to relax and enjoy some time at home. I sympathize with the frantic Top Chef contestants, who scramble to finish their prep work for a large catering event. Last week, I was in a similar situation, finalizing my Japan plans by booking flights and hostels, making contacts, and researching prices. Unforeseen complications are bound to arise, but for now I have done all that I can think of to ease my transition. I thought I’d include a brief summary of my preparations for those thinking of planning a trip to Japan.
Perhaps the most obvious first step is acquiring a passport, a process that may not require explanation for some, but was certainly confusing for me. Before visiting an application facility to get your passport, you must fill out a passport application. Make sure to do this in black ink. I filled out mine in blue and had to redo the entire application! There are other things you should make sure to bring, including proof of U.S. citizenship (either an old passport or birth certificate), proof of identity (I used my license), a photocopy of the front and back of your proof of identity, a recent color photo (I had mine taken at the application facility), and the necessary fees. More detailed instructions are available at the US State Department website. After visiting an application center, it usually takes around 4-6 weeks for your passport to arrive by mail. For short trips to Japan, visas are not required.
Another early concern of mine was immunizations. As a life long needle-phobe, these would have proven a difficult obstacle for me. Fortunately, my worries dissipated after hearing from my doctor that no shots are required. Rejoice!
As soon as you have confirmed the dates of your stay in Japan, booking a flight is the next step. Although flights from the U.S. are quite expensive, there are ways to find reduced costs. Make sure to book your flight well in advance, before prices start to rise. When booking my ticket, I used STA Travel, which finds cheap flights for students and teachers. Another way to reduce the cost of your flight is to avoid traveling during Japan’s busy tourist seasons: New Years (late Dec – Jan 4), Golden Week (Apr 29 – May 5), and Obon Festival (mid Aug). During these times, travel within Japan will most likely be more costly as well.
One more tip concerning air travel. In my search for a round trip ticket from Boston to Tokyo in mid-July, the average price was around $1,700. To my dismay, the future of my college bank account appeared grim. So, upon happening across a much cheaper ticket, I pounced without reviewing the details. This was a poor life decision. Smug in my supposed triumph, I was shocked to learn that after a flight from Boston to JFK, I would have 4 hours to get from there to Newark where I would then fly to Tokyo. And all this happened to fall during morning rush hour. By the time I realized my mistake prices had skyrocketed. Lesson learned.
My final advice pertains to finding shelter of some sort. As a frugal college student, I have opted to stay in capsule hotels and youth hostels. Confident in navigating the winding streets of Boston, I imagined Tokyo couldn’t be much different. While in Tokyo, I will be commuting to Sophia University, located in Yotsuya near Shinjuku. At first I planned on staying in Chiyoda-ku, the next district over. Luckily, my advisor warned me that the “next district over” would actually mean a half-hour commute. Moral of the story? Tokyo is an enormous city, over 9 times the size of my beloved Boston. Make sure to find lodging that isn’t too far from your destinations!
A few tips about selecting and paying for hostels. For my time in Tokyo, I have chosen to stay at the Ace Inn in Shinjuku, a nicer capsule hotel. The Ace Inn is in a great location, offers cheap prices, and has a friendly English speaking staff that has promptly responded to all of my panicked emails. In my experience, finding hostels with websites where I can reserve a room online has been a bit difficult, especially outside of Tokyo. Because Japan’s economy is cash-based, most hostels will ask that you pay in cash upon arrival.
Also, it is worth checking out the amenities that hostels offer. Most have wi-fi and laundry rooms and rent out items like hair dryers, towels, and bicycles for a small fee. Some, like the Nagasaki Catholic Center Youth Hostel where I will stay in Nagasaki, even serve breakfast. You also may have to pay for shower time, which is limited to 10 minutes and only permitted between certain hours at the Ace Inn.
After many grueling weeks spent finalizing the details of my living arrangements and flights, my stress has been overwhelmed by gleeful excitement. Just as food is more enjoyable after enduring careful preparation, so too will my voyage be all the more fulfilling for my meticulous planning. As I watch the banquet guests cheerfully sampling the contestants’ dishes, I cannot wait to dig into my imminent journey in Japan!